The first time I met Jim was on a Thursday evening in the choir loft at the church I decided to attend. We had just moved to a new job and didn’t know anyone outside of work. Finding a church with a decent music program has become more important since retirement from the Navy. I had been a fairly decent singer as a kid and kind of drifted in and out of churches during my time away. So I was happy to find a choir director who was so gifted and a choir that welcomed old retired Navy guys regardless of how well they sing.
Jim was already in his seat in the back of the men’s section. Over the years, seeing him sitting there at the beginning of each practice and church service became a solid fixture in my life. He was always there early. From the very first night we met, we fell into a pretty cool routine. We discovered that we had many things in common and that was a great way for us to build a friendship.
Jim asked me who I was and where I was from. I told him the short version ending with the submarine part. His eyes lit up and he had a lot of questions about living on a submarine. Then he told me about his time in the Navy during World War 2. He was a radio man on a destroyer in the South Pacific and he remembered his stories of being on board ship like it was yesterday.
We also talked about music. We had both been singers in our younger life and mainly sang in church and school. But the one love we both really shared was our love of the baritone horn. Jim played the horn all through school and remembered marching in many parades as a member of the brass section. His joy at recalling the old days made his eyes shine every time we spoke about it. I think mine did too although not nearly as much as his.
From that time on, we would have a few routine questions every time we met. “It’s great to see you. Where have you been? How’s that submarine doing? We should get together and play our horns one of these times.”
We talked about other things from time to time and he would tell me a few of his best stories. I think his favorite was the time he was on his destroyer and had to go up into the mast to fix something. One of his shipmates had taken a picture with an old brownie camera and he had a copy of the picture. It showed him lying on his side on the horizontal mast as carefree as a bird.
Jim came home from the war and like so many of his generation, he took advantage of the GI bill. He went to a prominent university in the Midwest where he eventually became an engineer and an attorney. His private life will remain that but as I grew to know his wife and family, the story of his life was phenomenal. They lived in a beautiful house near the lake and I will always remember sitting in his living room and hearing the story of the deer that came to feed in the back yard.
At first, I had thought maybe Jim had a stroke or similar disability and I was raised in a family where you just didn’t ask. But as the years went by, his wife trusted us with more and more of the story of Jim. I am eternally grateful to her for trusting us, strangers to her at first, with the most intimate details of his current life. It helped me to understand why he had more and more trouble with the songs and hymns. She would carefully mark them and arrange his music. But if there were any changes, he would quickly become disoriented. I learned to always be the calm voice sitting next to him. He let me rearrange his markers as needed and if she was late, I was honored to lead him back to the choir room.
Work caused us to move away after a few years but we stayed in touch with his wife. I have never known a woman with such a small physical stature who had such a commanding presence wherever she went. In his earlier life, he was the one who achieved success beyond measure. During the afternoon and evening of his life, she was strong enough to live life for them both.
We were not able to make the funeral due to my travels at the time. She was very gracious. She even sent copies of the letters he wrote before the Alzheimer’s disease stole the part of his mind that brought so many good things to so many people. When I met him he had already entered the harder stage of the disease. As I realized and finally was allowed into the family circle, I could see the great man that they all knew, even if it was in a different way. He never lost his spirituality and his kind nature. He sang until there was no more music.Its been nearly four years and I still miss him as much as I miss my own Dad.
But this I know: when I get to Heaven, I expect to see a number of “Saints” who showed me the way in life. One of those will truly be my friend Jim who taught me so much. I can even tell you what his first word’s will be:
“Where have you been? How’s that submarine doing? We should get together and play our horns one of these times.”
I’ll answer back the same way I always did: “It’s been a long time Jim. The boat is fine and I am out of practice. But I will sing with you today.”
God Bless you buddy.
What is Alzheimer’s ?
Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease, where dementia symptoms gradually worsen over a number of years. In its early stages, memory loss is mild, but with late-stage Alzheimer’s, individuals lose the ability to carry on a conversation and respond to their environment.
Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States.
Those with Alzheimer’s live an average of eight years after their symptoms become noticeable to others, but survival can range from four to 20 years, depending on age and other health conditions.
Help is available
If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or a related dementia, you are not alone. The Alzheimer’s Association is the trusted resource for reliable information, education, referral and support to millions of people affected by the disease.